The battle of Resaca de la Palma was the second engagement of the Mexican War.It was fought on May 9, 1846, a few miles north of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, the day after the retreat of the Mexican army at Palo Alto. The Mexican troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Mariano Aristaand the Americans under Maj. Gen. Zachary Taylorhad fought to a draw at the battle of Palo Altoon May 8. During the night Arista had withdrawn and established new positions in a dry streambed or resaca, Resaca de la Palma, which crossed the road between Matamoros and Port Isabel and provided the Mexicans with a strong defensive position. Sometime after 2:00 P.M. Taylor ordered the attack. After considerable difficulty with the Mexican artillery the American Dragoons and light infantry forced the Mexicans out of the resaca. The Mexicans counterattacked twice, were beaten back both times, and fled in panic, leaving behind all manner of baggage. Among the items left were 474 muskets and carbines, eight pieces of artillery, Arista's correspondence and silver service, and the colors of the Tampico Battalion. Of the 1,700 Americans engaged in the battle, thirty-three were killed and eighty-nine wounded. Of an estimated force of 4,000, the official records show the Mexican losses as 154 killed, 205 wounded, and 156 missing, many probably drowned trying the cross the Rio Grande at night. Taylor claimed to have buried 200 Mexican dead.
Brigadier-General Zachary Taylor, at camp near Fort Brown, Texas, to Roger Jones, Adjutant-General of the Army at Washington, D.C. Dispatch communicating Taylor's official Report of the Battle of Resaca de la Palma
Headquarters, Army of Occupation
Camp near Fort Brown, Texas, May 17, 1846.
Sir: In submitting a more minute report of the affair of "Resaca de la Palma," I have the honor to state that, early on the morning of the 9th instant, the enemy, who had encamped near the field of battle of the day previous, was discovered moving by his left flank, evidently in retreat, and perhaps at the same time to gain a new position on the road to Matamoras, and there again resist our advance.
I ordered the supply train to be strongly packed at its position, and left with it four pieces of artillery - the two 18-pounders which had done such good service on the previous day, and two 12-pounders, which had not been in the action. The wounded officers and men were, at the same time, sent back to Point Isabel. I then moved forward with the columns to the edge of the chapparal, or forest, which extends to the Rio Grande, a distance of seven miles. The light companies of the first brigade, under Captain C. T. Smith, 2d artillery, and a select detachment of light troops, the whole under the command of Captain McCall, 4th infantry, were thrown forward into the chapparal to feel the enemy, and ascertain his position. About 3 o'clock I received a report from the advance that the enemy was in position on the road, with at least two pieces of artillery. The command was immediately put in motion, and about 4 o'clock I came up with Captain McCall, who reported the enemy in force in our front, occupying a ravine which intersects the road, and is skirted by thickets of dense chapparal. Ridgely's battery and the advance under Captain McCall, were at once thrown forward on the road, and into the chapparal on either side, while the 5th infantry and one wing of the 4th was thrown into the forest on the left, and the 3d and the other wing of the 4th on the right of the road. These corps were employed as skirmishers to cover the battery, and engage the Mexican infantry. Captain McCall's command became at once engaged with the enemy, while the light artillery, though in a very exposed position, did great execution. The enemy had at least eight pieces of artillery, and maintained an incessant fire upon our advance.
The action now became general; and although the enemy's infantry gave way before the steady fire and resistless progress of our own, yet his artillery was still in position to check our advance, several pieces occupying the pass across the ravine which he had chosen for his position. Perceiving that no decisive advantage could be gained until this artillery was silenced, I ordered Captain May to charge the batteries with his squadron of dragoons. This was gallantly and effectually executed. The enemy was driven from his guns, and General La Vega, who remained alone at one of the batteries, was taken prisoner. The squadron, which suffered much in this charge, not being immediately supported by infantry, could not retain possession of the artillery taken, but it was completely silenced. In the mean time the 8th infantry had been ordered up, and had become warmly engaged on the right of the road. This regiment and a part of the 5th were now ordered to charge the batteries, which was handsomely done, and the enemy entirely driven from his artillery and his position on the left of the road.
The light companies of the first brigade, and the 3d and 4th regiments of infantry, had been deployed on the right of the road, when, at various points, they became briskly engaged with the enemy. A small party, under Captain Buchanan and Lieutenants Woods and Hays, 4th infantry, composed chiefly of men of that regiment, drove the enemy from a breastwork which he occupied, and captured a piece of artillery. An attempt to recover this piece was repulsed by Captain Barbour, 3d infantry. The enemy was at last completely driven from his position on the right of the road, and retreated precipitately, leaving baggage of every description. The 4th infantry took possession of a camp where the headquarters of the Mexican general-in-chief were established. All his official correspondence was captured at this place.
The artillery battalion (excepting the flank companies) had been ordered to guard the baggage train, which was packed some distance in rear. That battalion was now ordered up to pursue the enemy, and, with the 3d infantry, Captain Ker's dragoons and Captain Duncan's battery, followed him rapidly to the river, making a number of prisoners. Great numbers of the enemy were drowned in attempting to cross the river near the town. The corps last mentioned encamped near the river; the remainder of the army on the field of battle.
The strength of our marching force on this day, as exhibited in the annexed field report, was 173 officers and 2,049 men; aggregate 2,222. The actual number engaged with the enemy did not exceed 1,700. Our loss was three officers killed, thirty six men killed and seventy-one wounded. Among the officers killed I have to regret the loss of Lieutenant Inge, 2d dragoons, who fell at the head of his platoon, while gallantly charging the enemy's battery; of Lieutenant Cochrane of the 4th, and Lieutenant Chadbourne of the 8th infantry, who likewise met their death in the thickest of the fight. The officers wounded were Lieutenant Colonel Payne, inspector general; Lieutenant Dobbins, 3d infantry, serving with the light infantry advance, slightly; Lieutenant Colonel McIntosh, 5th infantry, severely, twice; Captain Hooe, 5th infantry, severely, (right arm since amputated;) Lieutenant Fowler, 5th infantry, slightly; Captain Montgomery, 8th infantry, slightly; Lieutenants Gates and Jordon, 8th infantry, severely, each twice; Lieutenants Selden, Maclay, Burbank, and Morris, 8th infantry, slightly. A tabular statement of the killed and wounded is annexed herewith.
I have no accurate data from which to estimate the enemy's force on this day. He is known to have been reinforced after the action of the 8th, both by cavalry and infantry, and no doubt to an extent at least equal to his loss on that day. It is probable that 6,000 men were opposed to us, and in a position chosen by themselves, and strongly defended with artillery. The enemy's loss was very great. Nearly 200 of his dead were buried by us on the day succeeding the battle. His loss in killed, wounded, and missing, in the two affairs of the 8th and 9th, is, I think, moderately estimated at 1,000 men.
Our victory has been decisive. A small force has overcome immense odds of the best troops that Mexico can furnish - veteran regiments, perfectly equipped and appointed. Eight pieces of artillery, several colors and standards, a great number of prisoners (including fourteen officers,) and a large amount of baggage and public property, have fallen into our hands.
The causes of victory are doubtless to be found in the superior quality of our officers and men. I have already, in former reports, paid a general tribute to the admirable conduct of the troops on both days. It now becomes my duty, and I feel it to be one of great delicacy, to notice individuals. In so extensive a field as that of the 8th, and in the dense cover where most of the action of the 9th was fought, I could not possibly be witness to more than a small portion of the operations of the various corps, and I must therefore depend upon the reports of the subordinate commanders, which I respectfully enclose herewith.
Colonel Twiggs, the second in command, was particularly active on both days, in executing my orders and directing the operations of the right wing. Lieutenant Colonel McIntosh, commanding the 5th infantry; Lieutenant Colonel Belknap, commanding the 1st brigade; Lieutenant Colonel Childs, commanding the artillery battalion; Major Allen, Captains L. N. Morris and Montgomery, commanding respectively the 4th, 3d, and 8th regiments of infantry, were zealous in the performance of their duties, and gave examples to their commands of cool and fearless conduct. Lieutenant Colonel McIntosh repulsed, with his regiment, a charge of lancers, in the action of Palo Alto, and shared with it in the honors and dangers of the following day, being twice severely wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Belknap headed a charge of the 8th infantry, which resulted in driving the enemy from his guns, and leaving us in possession of that part of the field.
Captain Duncan and Lieutenant Ridgely deserve special notice for the gallant and efficient manner in which they maneuvered and served their batteries. The impression made by Captain Duncan's battery upon the extreme right of the enemy's line at the affair of Palo Alto, contributed largely to the result of the day; while the terrible fire kept up by Lieutenant Ridgely, in the affair of the 9th, inflicted heavy losses upon the enemy. The 18-pounder battery, which played a conspicuous part in the action of the 8th, was admirably served by Lieutenant Churchill, 3d artillery, assisted by Lieutenant Wood, topographical engineers. The charge of cavalry against the enemy's batteries on the 9th, was gallantly led by Captain May, and had complete success. Captain McCall, 4th infantry, rendered distinguished service with advanced corps under his orders. Its loss, in killed and wounded, will show how closely it was engaged. I may take this occasion to say that, in two former instances, Captain McCall has rendered valuable service as a partisan officer. In this connexion, I would mention the services of Captain Walker, of the Texas Rangers, who was in both affairs with his company, and who has performed very meritorious services as a spy and partisan. I must beg leave to refer to the reports of subordinate commanders for the names of many officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates, who were distinguished by good conduct on both days. Instances of individual gallantry and personal conflict with the enemy were not wanting in the affair of the 9th, but cannot find a place in a general report. The officers serving on the staffs of the different commanders are particularly mentioned by them.
I derived efficient aid on both days from all the officers of my staff. Captain Bliss, assistant adjutant general, Lieutenant Colonel Payne, inspector general, Lieutenant Eaton, aide-de-camp, Captain Waggaman, commissary of subsistence, Lieutenant Scarritt, engineers, and Lieutenants Blake and Meade, topographical engineers, promptly conveyed my orders to every part of the field. Lieutenant Colonel Payne was wounded in the affair of the 9th; and I have already had occasion to report the melancholy death of Lieutenant Blake, by accident, in the interval between the two engagements. Major Craig and Lieutenant Brereton, of the Ordnance department, were actively engaged in their appropriate duties; and Surgeon Craig, medical director, superintended, in person, the arduous service of the field hospitals. I take this occasion to mention, generally, the devotion to duty of the medical staff of the army, who have been untiring in their exertions, both in the field and in the hospitals, to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded of both armies. Captains Crossman and Myers, of the Quartermaster's department, who had charge of the heavy supply train at both engagements, conducted it in a most satisfactory manner, and finally brought it up, without the smallest loss, to its destination.
I enclose an inventory of the Mexican property captured on the field, and also a sketch of the field of "Resaca de la Palma," and of the main route from Point Isabel, made by my aid-de-camp, Lieutenant Eaton.
One regimental color (battalion of Tampico) and many standards and guidons of cavalry were taken at the affair of the 9th. I would be pleased to receive your instructions as to the disposition to be made of these trophies - whether they shall be sent to Washington, &c.